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L^dited bu }\aumond foulard, Jr. 
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Portland, O r e g o k 




Scriptor Press 



Circular Ruins 

by Jorge Luis Borges 



edited by Raymond Soulard, Jr. 
& Kassandra Kramer 




Number Forty-one 



Circular Ruins 
by Jorge Luis Borges 

This volume is for those 

who keep wondering: 

what is real? 
Burning Man Books is 

an imprint of 

Scriptor Press 

2442 NW Market Street-#363 

Seattle, Washington 98107 

cenacle@mindspring. com 

www.geocities.com/scriptorpress 



This volume was composed 
in the AGaramond font 
in PageMaker 7.0 on the 
Macintosh G4 computer 




"And if he left off dreaming about you . . ." 
— Through the Looking Glass, VI. 

No one saw him disembark in the unanimous night, no one 
saw the bamboo canoe sink into the sacred mud, but in a few days 
there was no one who did not know that that taciturn man came 
from the South and that his home had been one of those numberless 
villages upstream in the deeply cleft side of the mountain, where the 
Zend language has not been contaminated by Greek and where leprosy 
is infrequent. What is certain is that the gray man kissed the mud, 
climbed up the bank without pushing aside (probably, without feeling) 
the blades which were lacerating his flesh, and crawled, nauseated 
and bloodstained, up to the circular enclosure crowned with a stone 
tiger or horse, which sometimes was the color of flame and now was 
that of ashes. This circle was a temple which had been devoured by 
ancient fires, profaned by miasmal jungle, and whose lowercase god 
no longer received the homage of men. The stranger stretched himself 
out beneath the pedestal. He was awakened by the sun high overhead. 
He was not astonished to find that his wounds had healed; he closed 
his pallid eyes and slept, not through weakness of flesh but through 
determination of will. He knew that this temple was the place required 
for his invincible intent; he knew that the incessant trees had not 
succeeded in strangling the ruins of another propitious temple 
downstream which had once belonged to gods now burned and dead; 
he knew that his immediate obligation was to dream. Toward midnight 
he was awakened by the inconsolable shriek of a bird. Tracks of bare 
feet, some figs and a jug warned him that the men of the region had 
been spying respectfully on his sleep, soliciting his protection or afraid 
of his magic. He felt a chill, and sought out a sepulchral niche in the 
dilapidated wall where he concealed himself among unfamiliar leaves. 

The purpose which guided him was not impossible, though 
supernatural. He wanted to dream a man; he wanted to dream him 
in minute entirety and impose him on reality. This magic project had 
exhausted the entire expanse of his mind; if someone had asked him 
his name or to relate some event of his former life, he would not have 
been able to have give an answer. This uninhabited, ruined temple 



Circular Ruins 



suited him, for it contained a minimum of visible world; the proximity 
of the workmen also suited him, for they took it upon themselves to 
provide for his frugal needs. The rice and fruit they brought him 
were nourishment enough for his body, which was consecrated to 
the sole task of sleeping and dreaming. 

At first, his dreams were chaotic; then in a short while they 
become dialectic in nature. The stranger dreamed that he was in the 
center of a circular ampitheater which was more or less the burnt 
temple; clouds of taciturn students filled the tiers of seats; the faces of 
the farthest ones hung at a distance of many centuries and as high as 
the stars, but their features were completely precise. The man lectured 
his pupils on anatomy, cosmography, and magic: the faces listened 
anxiously and tried to answer understan dinghy, as if they guessed the 
importance of that examination which would redeem one of them 
from his condition of empty illusion and interpolate him into the 
real world. Asleep or awake, the man thought over the answers of his 
phantoms, did not allow himself to be deceived by imposters, and in 
certain perplexities he sensed a growing intelligence. He was seeking 
a soul worthy of participating in the universe. 

After nine or ten nights he understood with a certain bitterness 
that he could expect nothing from those pupils who accepted his 
doctrine passively, but he could expect something from those who 
occasionally dared to oppose him. The former group, although worthy 
of love and affection, could not ascend to the level of individuals; the 
latter pre-existed to a slightly greater degree. One afternoon (now 
afternoons were also given over to sleep, now he was only awake for a 
couple of hours at daybreak) he dismissed the vast illusory student 
body for good and kept only one pupil. He was a taciturn, sallow 
boy, at times intractable, and whose sharp features resembled those 
of his dreamer. The brusque elimination of his fellow students did 
not disconcert him for long; after a few private lessons, his progress 
was enough to astound the teacher. Nevertheless, a catastrophe took 
place. One day, the man emerged from his sleep as if from a viscous 
desert, looked at the useless afternoon light which he immediately 
confused with the dawn, and understood that he had not dreamed. 
All that night and all day long, the intolerable lucidity of insomnia 



Jorge Luis Borges 



fell upon him. He tried exploring the forest, to lose his strength; 
among the hemlock he barely succeeded in experiencing several short 
snatchs of sleep, veined with fleeting, rudimentary visions that were 
useless. He tried to assemble the student body but scarcely had he 
articulated a few brief words of exhortation when it became deformed 
and was then erased. In his almost perpetual vigil, tears of anger burned 
his old eyes. 

He understood that modeling the incoherent and vertiginous 
matter of which dreams are composed was the most difficult task 
that a man could undertake, even though he should penetrate all the 
enigmas of a superior and inferior order; much more difficult than 
weaving a rope out of sand or coining the faceless wind. He swore he 
would forget the enormous hallucination which had thrown him off 
at first, and he sought another method of work. Before putting it 
into execution, he spent a month recovering his strength, which had 
been squandered by his delirium. He abandoned all premeditation 
of dreaming and almost immediately succeeded in sleeping a 
reasonable part of each day. The few times that he had dreams during 
this period, he paid no attention to them. Before resuming his task, 
he waited until the moon's disk was perfect. Then, in the afternoon, 
he purified himself in the waters of the river, worshipped the planetary 
gods, pronounced the prescribed syllables of a mighty name, and 
went to sleep. He dreamed almost immediately, with his heart 
throbbing. 

He dreamed that it was warm, secret, about the size of a 
clenched fist, and of a garnet color within the penumbra of a human 
body as yet without face or sex; during fourteen lucid nights he dreamt 
of it with meticulous love. Every night he perceived it more clearly. 
He did not touch it; he only permitted himself to witness it, to observe 
it, and occasionally to rectify it with a glance. He perceived it and 
lived it from all angles and distances. On the fourteenth night he 
lightly touched the pulmonary artery with his index finger, then the 
whole heart, outside and inside. He was satisfied with the examination. 
He deliberately did not dream for a night; he then took up the heart 
again, invoked the name of a planet, and undertook the vision of 
another of the principle organs. Within a year he had come to the 



Circular Ruins 



skeleton and the eyelids. The innumerable hair was perhaps the most 
difficult task. He dreamed an entire man — a young man, but who 
did not sit up or talk, who was unable to open his eyes. Night after 
night, the man dreamt him asleep. 

In the Gnostic cosmogonies, demiurges fashion a red Adam 
who cannot stand; as clumsy, crude and elemental as this Adam of 
dust was the Adam of dreams forged by the wizard's nights. One 
afternoon, the man almost destroyed his entire work, but then changed 
his mind. (It would have been better had he destroyed it.) When he 
had exhausted all supplications to the deities of the earth, he threw 
himself at the feet of the effigy which was perhaps a tiger or perhaps 
a colt and implored its unknown help. That evening, at twilight, he 
dreamt of the statue. He dreamt it was alive, tremulous: it was not an 
atrocious bastard of a tiger and a colt, but at the same time these two 
fiery creatures and also a bull, a rose, and a storm. This multiple god 
revealed to him that his earthly name was Fire, and that in this circular 
temple (and in others like it) people had once made sacrifices to him 
and worshipped him, and that he would magically animate the 
dreamed phantom, in such a way that all creatures, except Fire itself 
and the dreamer, would believe it to be a man of flesh and blood. He 
commanded that once this man had been instructed in all the rites, 
he should be sent to the other ruined temple whose pyramids were 
still standing downstream, so that some voice would glorify him in 
that deserted edifice. In the dream of the man that dreamed, the 
dreamed one awoke. 

The wizard carried out the orders he had been given. He 
devoted a certain length of time (which finally proved to be two years) 
to instructing him in the mysteries of the universe and the cult of 
fire. Secretly, he was pained at the idea of being separated from him. 
On the pretext of pedagogical necessity, each day he increased the 
number of hours dedicated to dreaming. He also remade the right 
shoulder, which was somewhat defective. At times, he was disturbed 
by the impression that all this had already happened .... In general, 
his days were happy; when he closed his eyes, he thought: Now I will 
be with my son. Or, more rarely: The son I have engendered is waiting 
for me and will not exist if I do not go to him. 



8 • Jorge Luis Borges 



Gradually, he began accustoming him to reality. Once he 
ordered him to place a flag on a faraway peak. The next day the flag 
was fluttering on the peak. He tried other analogous experiments, 
each time more audacious. With a certain bitterness, he understood 
that his son was ready to be born — and perhaps impatient. That night 
he kissed him for the first time and sent him off to the other temple 
whose remains were turning white downstream, across many miles 
of inextricable jungle and marshes. Before doing this (and so that his 
son should never know that he was a phantom, so that he should 
think himself a man like any other) he destroyed in him all memory 
of his years of apprenticeship. 

His victory and peace became blurred with boredom. In the 
twilight times of dusk and dawn, he would prostrate himself before 
the stone figure, perhaps imagining his unreal son carrying out 
identical rites in other circular ruins; at night he no longer dreamed, 
or dreamed as any man does. His perception of the sounds and forms 
of the universe became somewhat pallid: his absent son was being 
nourished by these diminutions of his soul. The purpose of his life 
had been fulfilled; the man remained in a kind of ecstasy. After a 
certain time, which some chroniclers prefer to compute in years and 
others in decades, two oarsmen awoke him at midnight; he could 
not see their faces, but they spoke to him of a charmed man in a 
temple of the North, capable of walking on fire without burning 
himself. The wizard suddenly remembered the words of the god. He 
remembered that of all the creatures that people the earth, Fire was 
the only one who knew his son to be a phantom. This memory, which 
at first calmed him, ended by tormenting him. He feared lest his son 
should meditate on this abnormal privilege and by some means find 
out he was a mere simulacrum. Not to be a man, to be a projection of 
another man's dreams — what an incomparable humiliation, 
procreated (or permitted) out of the mere confusion of happiness; it 
was natural that the wizard should fear for the future of that son 
whom he had thought out entrail by entrail, feature by feature, in a 
thousand and one secret nights. 

His misgivings ended abruptly, but not without certain 
forewarnings. First (after a long drought) a remote cloud, as light as a 



Circular Ruins 



bird, appeared on a hill; then, toward the South, the sky took on the 
rose color of leopard's gums; then came clouds of smoke which rusted 
the metal of the nights; afterwards came the panic-stricken flight of 
wild animals. For what had happened many centuries before was 
repeating itself. The ruins of the sanctuary of the god of Fire was 
destroyed by fire. In a dawn without birds, the wizard saw the 
concentric fire licking the walls. For a moment, he thought of taking 
refuge in the water, but then he understood that death was coming to 
crown his old age and absolve him from his labors. He walked toward 
the sheet of flames. They did not bite his flesh, they caressed him and 
flooded him without heat or combustion. With relief, with 
humiliation, with terror, he understood that he also was an illusion, 
that someone else was dreaming him. 

— Translated by Anthony Bonner 



10 • Jorge Luis Borges